Brock Netter, Staff Writer
KINNIKINNICK — It simply came down to this Saturday night: down the stretch, Zane Trace had a combination of Cam Evans and offensive rebounding, and Unioto didn’t.
Despite only leading by two points going into the fourth quarter, the Pioneers (12-2, 8-1 SVC) shifted into another gear late in the game, outscoring the Shermans (11-3, 8-1 SVC) 18-6 in the fourth and running away with a 51-37 victory.
The victory moves both teams into a tie for first place in the SVC with only five conference games remaining.
“We did this for our community and for another one,” Evans said. “I’m thankful for them trusting me in those moments, and the guys on the inside absolutely killing it in the second half on the glass.”
In his final matchup against ZT’s crosstown rival, Evans finished with 26 points and four rebounds … 13 of his points came in the final eight minutes.
“It means everything to us to come out here in front of a packed house and beat Unioto for our last time as seniors,” Evans said. “Honestly, it’s kind of sad that this is the last time we’ll play those guys. We’ve always been taught that the team across the river is the game no matter what. It’s always friendly, we give each other our best shot and we’re happy to walk out with a win.”
Evans scored four early points as the Pioneers shot out to a 7-6 lead midway through the first. Unioto countered with buckets from Isaac Little and Cameron DeBord to take a 10-7 lead after the quarter.
Unioto controlled the pace of play and went through Josh Lambert on the inside to set the tone in the second. Slowing the game down and running its sets allowed Lambert to score seven early points as Unioto controlled the lead at 21-16 before going into the break with a 22-20 advantage.
“Unioto came out early, had a nice stretch and controlled things early,” senior forward Nick Nesser said. “Our coaches just told us that they went on their stretch and now it’s time to go on ours. It got our juices going a little bit and we went back out to take care of business.”
The Pioneers wasted no time in the third and started on a 6-0 run to reclaim the lead at 26-22.
Still, Unioto continued to slow down the pace and grinded things out by scoring eight of the next 12 points behind DeBord and Little to take a 31-30 edge.
With the final seconds ticking away and the Pioneers having the final possession, Colby Swain found Luke Johnson in the right corner for a triple at the buzzer to put the Pioneers back ahead, 33-31.
With momentum on their side, the Pioneers’ bigs of Nesser and Triton Davidson went to work.
Sensing the Shermans hanging on the edge of a cliff, they took over on the glass, ripping down offensive rebounds left and right.
Nesser, in particular, turned his into points as he led the charge for the Pioneers. ZT opened up its biggest lead of the night at 46-35 with 2:30 left before closing out the victory.
“Early in the game, I think I was trying to force too much by getting the ball and just going 1-on-1,” Nesser said. “Unioto was packing it in so that wasn’t really working. I had to take a step back and trust my guys. Cam found me a couple times when he was driving since they were closing out on him for some easy buckets. It’s great to get this team win in front of a huge crowd in an intense, friendly rivalry.”
After Evans’ 26, Swain finished with 11 points while Nesser added nine points and eight rebounds.
For Unioto, Little finished with nine points followed by Lambert and DeBord with seven points each.
Both teams return to SVC action on Friday. Zane Trace is home against Huntington, and Unioto hosts Piketon.
Unioto: 10-12-9-6 — 37
Zane Trace: 7-13-13-18 — 51
Unioto: 12-31 FG, 12-18 FT, 1-9 3 pt., 19 rebounds (Wheeler 5), 9 turnovers, 6 assists (Little 2). Scoring: Little 9, Jo. Lambert 7, Cam. DeBord 7, Wheeler 5, Keiser 4, Markko 3, Greenwalt 2.
Zane Trace: 17-46 FG, 16-22 FT, 1-10 3 pt., 33 rebounds (Davidson 9), 8 turnovers, 11 assists (Nesser 3). Scoring: Evans 26, Swain 11, Nesser 9, Johnson 3, Davidson 2.